If there is one thing that we as a church have learned this year it is that mercy is more than forgiveness of sins. The covenants of the Old Testament reveal a technology for relationship.
Covenants were political and legal agreements that created peace between two parties. Each party to the covenant was required to keep the terms of the covenant otherwise they would suffer the penalties agreed upon. In the case of Israel and God, the terms of the covenant were summed up in the Ten Commandments. Unlike the terms of treaties that nations made with each other, in those days the terms of their covenant with the Lord was to shape the people of Israel through a culture of thanksgiving to be a living sign of God’s holiness and justice on earth.
Israel’s vocation was to live in human terms the holiness of the creator of the universe and the Lord of history. Living according to these terms deepened relationships among people, with the land and between the community and God. In the New Covenant we have received a degree of friendship with God that is without parallel through Jesus Christ.
In contrast with this glorious invitation to share divine life and purpose, sometimes women and men in ministry, religious life and priesthood lament that we have never had better theology, better spiritual formation and better understanding of culture and society, and yet we have so few candidates for full-time ministry and service in the church.
“If young adults only knew what a tremendous life of service and meaning lies before them not to mention job security . . .” I often experience a deep inner dismay when this contradiction hits home. I and many other ministers, priests and religious sisters and brothers feel both frustrated and a deep sense of loss for the young people who are not discovering the call to total discipleship in the Catholic tradition.
We recognize that young people have entered a world that has suffered the deconstruction of a large number of social and religious institutions that provided communal and familial stability. This has left families and individuals lacking interior confidence, or could we say, faith. The good news is that there is an inner kingdom within and among us that cannot suffer deconstruction. Our dissatisfaction with the superficiality of contemporary life testifies to the soul’s deep remembrance of God. Now is the time to find your way back to the kingdom. And others are depending on you.
When I visit schools or parishes I give this advice to the parish as a whole. To recover our identity and purpose as Catholics we need to cultivate a new culture within our communities. The culture that we need to create is a culture of vocation. This implies an open-ended adventure of growth and maturity that has the risen Jesus as its source and the Eternal Father at its end. The path between is life the Holy Spirit through our wonderful hurting world.
The creation of this new culture begins with first believing that God has something very important for you to do and only you can realize what it is. So you have to pray and listen so that you will find out what it is. Second, we need to keep telling this to one another. The young in our lives especially need to hear this message over and over again in different ways. “God has something very important for you to do, now you have to pray so that you will find what it is and do it.”
Another way of stirring up vocational reflection is by some frank and challenging questions that provoke a manifestation of a sacrificial love. “Would you become a priest or a religious sister or brother if by doing so you could bring 10 people to receive eternal life in heaven?” “Would you become a priest, sister or brother if you knew that you could initiate 100 people into the Catholic faith and they would remain faithful Catholics their whole lives and that all their children would remain faithful Catholics.” “Would you choose such a vocation if you knew that you could influence 7,000 different people over the course of your life to experience the treasures of Christian community, mystical prayer and ministry to the poor.” “Would you give your life as priest or religious if you knew that by doing so you could teach 10,000 people the skills of interpreting Scripture and theology to meet modern needs?” “Would you choose such a vocation if you knew that you could counsel 200 couples to avoid breakup and toward deeper love?”
“Or could you accept such a vocation if Jesus simply asked you?”
If you suddenly feel a cold reluctant draft it could be that in the first series of questions there was a target or prize that you could focus on and it really made the consideration meaningful and thoughtful. What this exercise teaches you is this: when you are not focused so much on yourself you make more kingdom-oriented choices. When there is not a clear target or prize you naturally focus more on yourself and you make shallower choices. So the story of Easter calls us in the mercy that Jesus showed Peter to have no other target or prize in mind other than following the risen Jesus and this is your way of contributing to the salvation of the whole world.
Blom can be contacted at email@example.com He is willing to speak in parishes and to spiritual groups on creating vocation culture. He resides in Saskatoon and is part of the Campus Ministry team at St. Thomas More College and part of St. Joseph’s Parish. The Oblate vocation webpage can be seen at www.oblatevocations.ca